Couscous Soup with Chicken, Tomatoes, and Mint
(recipe, Joanne Weir)
In North Africa, cooking couscous can be a very laborious process. With this soup, the couscous is simply added to simmering broth. Make sure you simmer the broth briskly and stir vigorously while adding the couscous so that the couscous doesn't lump together. Harissa, the peppery condiment paste of North Africa, can be made from scratch or purchased in either a can or tube.
- 1 small chicken (3 lbs.), cut into 4 pieces, skin removed
- 1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
- 1 Tbsp. tomato paste
- 2 tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped, or ¾ cup canned Italian plum tomatoes, drained and chopped
- 1 yellow onion, coarsely grated
- ½ tsp. ground cumin
- ½ tsp. sweet paprika
- ¼ tsp. turmeric
- ¼ tsp. harissa or cayenne
- 1 cinnamon stick
- ½ tsp. salt
- ½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
- 8 cups water
- ½ cup couscous
- 3 Tbsp. chopped fresh mint
- 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro or coriander leaves
- 1 to 2 tsp. lemon juice
- In a soup pot, place the chicken pieces, olive oil, butter, tomato paste, tomatoes, onion, cumin, paprika, turmeric, harissa, cinnamon stick, salt, pepper, and 2 cups of the water. Over high heat, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer, covered, until the chicken is cooked, 45 minutes. Remove the chicken from the broth and let cool. Remove all the bones and tear the chicken into 1-inch pieces. Add the chicken back to the broth.
- Add the remaining 6 cups water and, over high heat, bring the soup to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and, using a spoon, stir the broth constantly as you slowly add the couscous. Add the mint, parsley, and cilantro and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Season with salt, pepper, and lemon juice and serve immediately.
Editor's notes: Not many whole chickens in grocery stores weigh 3 pounds or less, so try a mixture of thighs and breasts instead. Be sure to buy the chicken parts with the bones intact; the broth will be much more flavorful (and it's easy enough to strip off the chicken skin at home).
Don't worry about peeling and seeding those lone two tomatoes. Because this recipe makes a lot of soup (three or four quarts), the seeds and skins will be hardly noticeable.
Dicing or mincing the onion works just as well as grating.
For a fuller-tasting soup, replace some of the 8 cups of water with chicken or vegetable stock; 4 cups water and 4 cups stock is a nice balance.
For a thicker, stewlike soup, increase the couscous to 1 cup.